Burning bridges and reaching for the sky

When I heard the news that Burning Sky was to remove its beers from all Brewdog bars I was happy, as it suggested the highly regarded Sussex-based brewery was on a sound economic footing and brimming with confidence. When I read the full story on Total Ales however, I was disappointed by founder and head brewer Mark Tranter’s combative language. It’s not that I disagree with what Mark has to say in Matt Curtis’ article; what saddens me is the predicament his very public statement places emerging breweries in, should Brewdog come calling. In both a monetary sense and in terms of exposure, having Brewdog stock your beers must be welcome for any young brewery. However, I feel Mark’s words may make the decision to travel down a road previously traversed by Burning Sky more difficult by preemptively sullying it.

Before I go on, I should issue two caveats. Firstly, that Matt Curtis is a good friend of mine and I have immense respect for him personally and professionally; and secondly, that I am in awe of what Mark has created at Burning Sky. It should also be said that my feelings towards Brewdog are ambivalent at best and downright unfavourable at worst, all of which makes ensuring I attain balance in this post nigh impossible.

It was clearly Mark’s prerogative to make this decision, but I find the timing and manner of it questionable. He must have valued the relationship with Brewdog once upon a time; indeed it was sufficiently fruitful for Burning Sky to take part in Brewdog’s ‘Collabfest’ in 2015. While he cites Brewdog’s treatment of The Wolf pub as particularly displeasing, that Brewdog has been ‘behaving in a manner that runs against the very ideology upon which the punk movement was founded’ is hardly a recent phenomenon. It’s clear to see to anyone but the most ardent ‘Equity Punk’ that the Ellon-based brewery has sought to appropriate punk culture since its inception.

This story has been Total Ales’ most popular ever, and rightly so – it’s massive news, but I don’t buy that there wasn’t a PR element to it. Yes, Burning Sky may be at capacity but there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and who knows what the future holds? Matt has explained (see the link at the bottom of the page) that he was the ‘aggressor’ in writing and publishing the story, but Mark provided a vivid quote in the full knowledge that this news would be poured over by the beer community.

To return to my original point, I just wish Mark had considered the potential impact upon young breweries considering an offer to work with Brewdog and who may now decline or accept it with a heavy heart. It also devalues the actions of small breweries already working with Brewdog, and it would be sad if their joy at what is a notable achievement was diminished by a much respected colleague’s unguarded words.

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